It was inevitably going to happen sooner or later as Connor Goldson, one of Shrewsbury Town’s most popular players of recent times, settles into his new surroundings at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Goldson, who has always seemed to have an old head on young shoulders, deserves his opportunity to play at a higher level and, while he will clearly be missed at the Greenhous Meadow, the classy Nat Knight-Percival’s imminent return from a long-term injury could not be better timed.
Goldson’s talent was obvious from an early age with his impressive displays for the youth team and reserves being rewarded with a professional contract – and, such has been his development, for the last year or so it was a question of just where he would end up moving to as opposed to would he leave, with Brighton eventually becoming his destination.
Goldson made his first team debut as a substitute in a runaway 5-1 win at Lincoln in February 2011, a night when Lionel Ainsworth scored a hat-trick, and displayed maturity well beyond his years seven months later when he was handed his second senior start against of all teams Arsenal in the League Cup in front of a crowd of more than 46,000 at the Emirates.
He played more like a seasoned professional than a teenage rookie and, although he had his ups and downs under Graham Turner, being sent on loan to Cheltenham for a month as Dave Winfield and Tamika Mkandawire were preferred at the heart of the Town back four, his talent eventually earned him a regular place once Mike Jackson assumed temporary control.
Goldson won many admirers among Town supporters when he rejected the chance to move on after Town’s relegation from League One in 2014.
Many young footballers would have found it impossible to turn down the advances of a Premier League club when Swansea City came calling, but Goldson went against his agent’s wishes by instead pledging his immediate future to Shrewsbury.
Instantly impressed by the club’s new manager Micky Mellon, Goldson wanted to stay and play his part in a Town revival, doing just that as he helped the club bounce straight back up.
He completed 51 of Town’s 53 matches in league and cup – missing only two games in April owing to suspension – and also contributed seven goals from the back as his consistent form was recognised by his fellow professionals who voted him into the PFA divisional team of the year.
It was a pleasant surprise that Goldson was still around at the Meadow to kick off the new season as captain against Millwall, but two more impressive displays at Blackburn and Bradford, the sort of assured performances Town fans had started to take for granted, convinced Chris Hughton the time was right to make his move and take the big defender south to Brighton.
“I think Brighton have got a fantastic player who will go on and establish himself as a top Championship player and has got the ability to play in the Premier League,” said Greenhous Meadow chief executive Matt Williams, echoing the thoughts of many.
He added: “He leaves with our best wishes and I believe it’s a fantastic deal for the football club. It’s a significant fee. We don’t like to put it to the marketplace the exact figures because if we identify a player that we want to sign, either for a transfer or wages, clubs all of a sudden think that we’ve got millions of pounds to spend.
“It’s decent six figures, absolutely. We put a value on the player and we stuck to our guns with our valuation. We were very consistent throughout with Brighton over exactly what we wanted and how we wanted the deal structured. It’s a deal where we retain interest moving forward as well so there’s a decent sell on in there.”
Boss Mellon, who begins life without the influential Goldson at Oldham Athletic this weekend, also firmly believes Goldson has the talent to flourish at Championship level with the Seagulls, a club whose average attendance of 25,645 made them the third best supported club in the second tier last season despite a disappointing campaign.
“He’s improved enormously since I first came here and through a lot of hard work and a lot of analysing his performance he’s enabled himself to get to the type of player that he is at the minute,” said Mellon.
“There’s still going to be massive improvements in him because he’s going to be playing against better players. The challenge is going to he higher every week so that will bring out the best in him.”
He added: “I’m really pleased for him because he worked very, very hard, and it’s always good to see somebody evolve as a footballer and get their just rewards for hard work.
“It’s obviously going to be very difficult for us because we’ve lost a very good player and a massive part of what we’re doing.”
Mellon stressed Brighton, who have handed Goldson a four-year contract, have secured the services of a player who, at 22, is only going to keep improving.
“Certainly, Brighton are getting a really good player with a fantastic work ethic who’s only going to get better and better, and a leader,” he said. “The staff here can be very proud of the work that they’ve put in alongside him because he’ll be very ready to go and play at that level because of a lot of the things he’s learnt here so that’s great credit to the guys that are here.”
As for the task of replacing Goldson, Mellon stressed he was excited about Knight-Pervical, who will almost feel like a new signing, closing in on fitness after being sidelined since January while he also has Jermaine Grandison, Mark Ellis and promising Wales under-21 international Dominic Smith in his squad.
“Knight-Percival played 70 minutes on Wednesday,” said Mellon. “He’s a terrific player and we’re mad keen to get him back.”